Sunday, November 11, 2018

Sledding in Sunshine at White Sands National Monument

Sledding in sunshine - now that’s a mom’s dream!  We get very little snow where we live, but it only takes one snowfall a year to remind me that I hate the process of getting kids ready to play in the snow.  You spend an hour bundling everyone up and then five minutes later they are ready to come in (well, with the exception of one December baby that could play outside all day in snow, but I’m not up for freezing all day to supervise).  If you are looking for hassle free sledding, White Sands National Monument in New Mexico is your place!

About an hour from Las Cruces, NM, in the Chihuahuan Desert, White Sands National Monument preserves approximately half of the 275 square miles of gypsum dune fields.  Steady, strong southwest winds keep gypsum sand moving and pile it into dunes of various sizes and shapes.  The gypsum sand dunes absorbs moisture which glues the dunes together so they don’t blow away.

When you arrive, stop in the Visitors Center to watch a movie about the history of White Sands, get your Junior Ranger books, and fill your water containers (no water is available past this point, and you’ll need it after a few climbs up the sand dunes).  Then, you can head next door to the Gift Shop to buy your sleds.  Used sleds cost $10 and new sleds are $18.95.  The supply of used sleds is limited (we snagged the last 3).  You can turn your sleds in for a small refund at the end of the day ($3 for used sleds, $5 for new sleds), or keep them.  If we had planned ahead better, we probably would have Amazon primed us some sleds to save some money.  We got 4 sleds for the 8 of us to share, and that number worked out quite well. You’ll also need some wax, which you can purchase for about $2 at the gift shop.  

 Once you are stocked up with sleds and water it’s time to drive into the park!  With the sand plowed to the side of the road, you’ll feel like you are driving into a winter wonderland.  Approximately 6 miles past the entrance station you’ll come to a loop of picnic areas.  Find one next to a dune you like and park.  When we went in November the park was practically empty!  It seemed like the perfect time to go. It wasn’t crowded and it was a perfect 55 degrees - not hot nor cold!  

If you are traveling in an RV (or even a large van), you’ll want to leave your water bottles, snacks, diaper bag, and anything else you may need access to either on the picnic table (which we felt safe doing, but we had eyes on it and it was not busy) or just inside the door where you can reach it.  The sand is moist and sticks to shoes really well, so to keep this a hassle free day don’t track it unnneceasarily inside your vehicle.

Once the kids saw the dunes, they were off to explore and scout out the best slope!  It’s time for some fun!  Enjoy the squeals and laughter while you soak in the breathtaking views of dazzling sand and mountains.

While they are running, wax up the bottom of the sleds.  Once they decide on a spot, encourage them to go down the same route over and over again.  Each time it will get faster and you’ll sled a little bit further.  My husband and I had so much fun sledding too.  It brings back some good memories of childhood!  Remember, sled AWAY from the roads and parking areas!  There are signs posted everywhere, but still we saw people sledding right into a roadway.  Even if it is not busy, you never know when a car or large RV will drive by.

The baby had just as much fun sliding down on his belly and trying to climb back up, only to get halfway up and slide back down.  It reminded me of the video of the baby polar bear.  Never give up! 

We spent about two hours sledding before it was time for us to get back on the road. If you have some more time here you may want to check out some of the hiking trails through the park.  

For more adventure guides be sure to check out our Travel Page and follow us on Instagram @pocketful_of_treasures.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

New Mexico’s Hidden Gem - Rockhound State Park

We were traveling between Tucson and Las Cruces and looking for a fun overnight stop.  This place caught my attention. It literally has hidden gems - jasper, opal, quartz, and more - that you can hunt for and keep.  The whole trip we have been telling the kids they can’t take rocks from the parks, and this park advertises itself as a place where you can collect rocks and gems.  Sold!  To Rockhound State Park we went.

It’s located on the outskirts of Deming, NM at the base of the Little Florida Mountains.  We called ahead to see if there was any availability and were told that there were a few first come first serve sites available at the moment.  We arrived just before sunset and all of the developed sites were already taken.  The camp host told us we could dry camp at any of the pull outs near the visitor center for $8/night.  Worked for us!  

In the morning we took the mile long Thunder Egg Loop Trail that provides access to the rocky slopes overlooking the campground.  There are a few spurs off of the main trail that are also good for rock hunting.

There are some boulders along the trail that the kids enjoyed playing on.  You can see veins of various minerals in some of them.

Remind your children to watch out for snakes!  Thankfully we did not see any, but we were warned that there are Diamondback rattlesnakes frequently sighted in the area.  We were excited to find a Tarantula. You can pick up a brochure on Tarantulas in the Visitor’s Center, which our kids used for their Roadschooling journals.  Did you know that Tarantulas get bald on their abdomen when they get old?  They also have claws that retract like a cat!

We also sighted a Praying Mantis - quite possibly the largest one we had ever seen.  

As we crept along the trail we found some really neat rocks.  Mostly we found jasper, but some quartz, several geodes, a little bit of opal, and tiny bit of perlite.  It probably would have been good to bring some picks, hammers, chisels or other rockhounding tools. 

There’s nothing quite like the excitement of finding a hidden gem.  Discovering sparkling geodes were especially exciting.  We examined some of the larger ones and kept some smaller finds, which they will add to their Rock Collection.  You can download our free Rock Exploration Sheet on our AHG Geology Badge post.

The Visitor’s Center has a display of rocks and minerals found in the area.  I would recommend going before you go on the hike so you know what you are looking for, but they do not open until 10am and we only had the morning to spend there.  The lady working at the Visitor's Center was extremely kind and helpful.  She’s happy to help you identify your cool finds.  You can also see how the various rocks look once they are tumbled and polished.  The kids have all added a rock tumbler to their wish list.

On our way to the Visitor’s Center (the adobe building in the background) we spotted this Juvenile Red Tail Hawk which was kind enough to let me walk right up to it to take its picture.  Between the scenery, wildlife, and rocks, we sure loved this hidden gem!

For more adventures be sure to check out our Travel Page and follow us on Instagram @pocketful_of_treasures.